Highway to hell

You may repent later, but you’ll love Brüka’s newest production

Mary Bennett plays a slightly psychotic nun and 8-year-old Tanner Dundas steals scenes in Brüka’s <i>Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You</i>.

Mary Bennett plays a slightly psychotic nun and 8-year-old Tanner Dundas steals scenes in Brüka’s Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You.

Rated 4.0

Brüka Theatre tackles two funny Christopher Durang plays in its latest production, a double-bill of Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You and The Actor’s Nightmare. It’s an ambitious undertaking, nicely directed by Tom DeWester, who wisely employs the same cast for both shows.

Sister Mary stars Mary Bennett as a self-righteous nun lecturing us on our almost certain hell-bound status. With helpful drawings, including a hilarious depiction of Limbo as a cage with diapered babies floating in it, and the assistance of her young student Thomas, the first portion of the play acts as a ruler, cracking us across our heathen wrists.

Bennett plays Sister with a frighteningly funny realism: As lunatic as Sister appears at times, I’m sure there are a few nuns out there of similar composure. Durang’s dialogue provides her with great stuff, and Bennett delivers it as if she honestly believes every absurd thing she’s saying, coupled with just the slightest hint of total insanity behind the eyes. It’s a wonderfully warped performance.

Tanner Dundas, 8, steals scenes as the little boy who knows his catechism and gleefully chews the cookies he’s given for each correct answer to Sister’s questions. Dundas delivers his lines with a sly smile and an effective deadpan that qualifies as great acting. He’s a pleasure to watch.

When a group of Sister’s former students show up to perform a blasphemous pageant on the life of Christ, it’s pretty nasty, culminating in an unorthodox, funny depiction of the Crucifixion. The students include Scott Dundas (Tanner’s dad) as a purposely stiff Joseph, Rachael Beers as a perfectly droll Mary and the combo of Lewis Zaumeyer and Heather Edmiston as a camel.

Each student harbors hatred for Sister, blaming her in part for his or her screwed-up lives. Zaumeyer’s predicament is especially funny: He suffers from bladder problems, because Sister would never grant him bathroom breaks. He’s very good at displaying his pain.

Durang’s own words manage to momentarily cripple the comic momentum toward Sister‘s finale, when a character played by Beers reveals many atrocities she’s lived through and how Sister’s teachings didn’t help.

Durang’s not-too-subtle language during this sequence is hard to negotiate, and the cast actually seems a bit scared of it at times, performing it in quiet, muted fashion. The moment seems to call for a more ferocious, outrageous approach—something less laid-back. They recover from this speed bump to finish the play with a final image involving Tanner that is priceless.

After intermission, during which I’m sure the cast performs multiple acts of contrition, they return for The Actor’s Nightmare. Zaumeyer portrays a dreaming man who finds himself forcibly cast as the lead in a play he doesn’t know, with actors he doesn’t recognize. As well as adequately displaying an actor’s anxieties, the play cleverly spoofs the likes of Coward, Beckett and Shakespeare.

Zaumeyer (also the artist of the before-mentioned Limbo picture) is fun here, screaming for lines and prompts that never come, but I honestly got more laughs out of his addled bladder character in Sister. Dundas and Edmiston, hysterically funny in both plays, share a moment with a custard pie that killed me.

While Sister is the stronger of the two, both plays provide many laughs. I also realize that by endorsing Sister as quality entertainment, I have an express ticket to hell.